Stoke last night eased to a comfortable 2-0 win over League Two Rotherham in the Carling Cup, their first win by more than a single goal in 30 attempts, and in doing sealed their place in the quarter-finals of the competition for the first time in 30 years. A Glenn Whelan goal followed by Danny Pugh’s first for the club were enough for Tony Pulis’ side, which featured wholesale changes from the Premier League draw at Wigan on Saturday.
Ryan Shawcross and Seyi Olofinjana were the only players to retain their starting places, whilst first team regulars Ricardo Fuller, Rory Delap, Thomas Sorensen and Amdy Faye all featured on the bench. The rest of Pulis’ matchday squad was made up of fringe players and reserve players, with Steve Simonsen, Leon Cort, Carl Dickinson, Andy Wilkinson, Richard Cresswell, Vincent Pericard, Dave Kitson, Pugh and Whelan all coming in for the home side. Rotherham manager Mark Robins made one change to the side that drew with Aldershot in the FA Cup at the weekend, bringing in top scorer Reuben Reid in place of Omar Garcia who dropped to the bench.
Unsurprisingly, it was the Premier League side making most of the headway early on, Whelan’s dipping effort dipping just over before Shawcross contrived to head over from four yards out on ten minutes when a goal looked a more likely outcome. The hosts continued to press on, Vincent Pericard badly missing the target after being cleverly played in by Dave Kitson, who had a point to prove to the club’s management and fans after a less than impressive start to his Stoke career.
The opening goal did come for Stoke on 21 minutes, Rotherham midfielder Alex Rhodes being penalised for a high foot just outside the penalty area. Irish international Whelan, who was captain for the night, took full advantage of the resulting free-kick, hitting an effort that relied on placement more than power just past the dive of Millers ‘keeper Andy Warrington, the ball hitting the net to Warrington’s right. It was Whelan’s second strike of the season, the other also being a free-kick in similar circumstances, in the 3-2 win at Cheltenham in the second round of the competition.
Whelan curls home the opener before celebrating with Pugh
The League Two side almost restored parity just a minute later though, Rhodes beating Wilkinson on the left flank before firing in an excellent ball that eluded the Stoke defence, but also, unfortunately for the 2,000 strong travelling Rotherham contingent, the onrushing Drewe Broughton.
Ten minutes later, Stoke’s lead was almost doubled, Richard Cresswell hitting a well times volley across Warrington, but the ‘keeper was more than matched it, pulling out a top-draw save to tip the ball onto his right hand post to the anguish of the Stoke faithful.
Half time came, with neither manager opting for any changes, and the second half beginning in much the same style the first had ended, Stoke pushing forward for a second. Seyi Olofinjana’s tame effort, gathered comfortably by Warrington was the best the hosts could muster in the opening minutes though.
Simonsen was called upon to make his first meaningful save of the night seven minutes into the half though, parrying the ball away with one hand after Reid had picked it up twelve yards out. The former-Everton stopper showing that he still has plenty to offer to Stoke, despite not featuring in recent league matches. Broughton then wasted a golden opportunity for the Yorkshire side, firing over with only Simonsen to beat.
Those Stokies who were beginning to worry at this point, particularly in light of recent form to lower league opposition, needn’t have, the advantage was doubled on 59 minutes, Pugh latching onto another Kitson through-ball and driving the ball under the body of Warrington into the right corner of the goal. The 25 year old, who is yet to feature in the league this season, celebrated his first Stoke goal in style, with an acrobatic cartwheel and backflip.
Danny Pugh celebrates his goal in acrobatic fashion
The night to this point was going very well for Stoke, and it seemed to have got even better with 20 minutes left, Kitson appearing to finally break his Stoke City duck, poking the ball home from close range, only to be denied by the linesman’s offside flag.
The third goal would have been a luxury that Stoke in truth didn’t need, despite the valiant efforts of Rotherham, particularly Dale Tonge whose late 40 yard effort stung the hands of Simonsen. The eventual 2-0 scoreline a fair reflection of the comfort with which Stoke won the game. A win is all that would have been expected by Stoke supporters, and the players delivered on the night. It is enthusing as a fan to have reached the quarter-finals of the League Cup, but even more so to note Stoke’s recent good form, with four wins and a draw from the last six matches, including four straight wins at home.
Next, the Potters face a simple away trip to Manchester United on Saturday, before which the draw for the quarter-finals will be made at noon, with both clubs remaining in the hat.
Wilkinson Cort Shawcross Dickinson
Cresswell Olofinjana Whelan Pugh
Substitutes: Amdy Faye for Olofinjana(58), Fuller for Pericard(73)
Subs not used: Sorensen, Sonko, Delap, Demar Phillips, Wedderburn